A significant piece of Chevrolet performance history came up for sale recently when CERV II crossed the block as part of RM Auctions' The Art of the Automobile sale in New York City.
This was the second Corvette Experimental Racing Vehicle masterminded by Zora Arkus-Duntov. The first, built in 1959, was a single-seat, mid-engine car used to test suspension components under extreme conditions. CERV II was created in the early '60s, a time when Chevrolet was looking for a response to Ford's planned assault on Le Mans with the GT40.
Yet the CERV II was more than just a mid-engine sports prototype. Duntov was also exploring the idea of powering a sports car with four-wheel drive, to improve cornering speeds and straight-line acceleration. So CERV II was fitted with torque converters fore and aft, splitting engine output asymmetrically. An 11-inch Powerglide converter would send 60 to 65 percent of engine torque to the rear wheels, while a smaller converter out of a Corvair sent 35 to 40 percent to the front. This is why CERV II sits on four fat gumballs of equal size, wrapped around 15x9.5-inch magnesium knock-offs.
Early in its life, CERV II was powered by a 377-inch small-block similar to those built for the Grand Sport Corvettes that raced in the Bahamas in 1963. With Weber carburetors on a cross-ram manifold, the engine put out 490 hp; adding Hilborn injection made north of 500. Duntov figured that, depending on gearing, the 1,900-pound car could accelerate from 0-60 in just 2.8 seconds or, with taller final-drive ratios, reach a top speed of about 160. Testing at the Milford Proving Grounds proved him wrong, as CERV II was clocked at 200 mph.
When Chevrolet pulled the plug on all its factory-backed racing efforts, CERV II went from being a racing prototype to a test mule, used to evaluate tires, brakes, and other components. The small-block was replaced by a 427-inch alloy ZL1 engine fed by a single four-barrel carburetor.
It was in this configuration that Corvette historian Karl Ludvigsen drove CERV II at the Proving Grounds for an article that appeared in the November '70 Motor Trend. Duntov was on hand to get some laps in and talk to Ludvigsen about the car before the writer slipped into the tight cockpit.
During a few initial low-speed laps around a skidpad, Ludvigsen found CERV II's handling "practically neutral at low speeds and almost insensitive to power application." That changed when he pushed the car harder: "There was mild understeer at first, then CERV II's tail started to swing out of line. I reacted normally by backing off the throttle and counter-steering, but instead of helping these movements made matters worse, prompting a quick spin to the inside. Like most newcomers to high-performance four-wheel-drive chassis, I was finding the experience normal to a point, then completely baffling."
Ludvigsen also wanted to experience CERV II under hard acceleration. "…holding it with the brakes as I kept 500-plus horsepower from stalling while blipping the throttle…I applied full throttle, CERV II shuddering as the big Chevy strained against the torque converters at their 2,500-rpm stall speed. When I released the brake, CERV II shot away, straight and smooth without a chirp from the 10.50x15 Firestones. With spectacular ease and indifferent driver skill this astonishing car had rocketed from rest to 100 mph in a scant handful of seconds. No matter what the throttle position, it steered easily, tracking with precision and stability."
Not long after Ludvigsen's test drive, CERV II was put in storage, and later donated to the Briggs Cunningham museum in Southern California. When the museum closed in 1986, CERV II went through several collectors' hands before being consigned to the RM auction.
The auction catalog describes CERV II as being in well preserved original condition. "Given that the entire drivetrain and running gear was essentially hand fabricated by Chevrolet, and that it is unique to CERV II, the fact that the car is in one piece today is an indication that it must have the same parts it did in 1970. There is no evidence of any significant damage, and its longtime caretaker attests that the blue and white paint appears to have been applied in 1964." RM noted that, "The same irreplaceable mechanical components that speak to CERV II's originality have limited its use in recent years. Nevertheless, it is operational and will still demonstrate performance that will give any modern supercar nightmares."
CERV II sold in New York for $1.1 million.